EXECUTIVE PASTRY CHEF H TOWN RESTAURANT GROUP – HUGO’S, CARACOL, BACKSTREET CAFE AND XOCHI
Ruben Ortega was raised in Mexico City and Puebla, Mexico, and learned his love of cooking and baking from his aunt, who taught him how to knead dough by hand in a hollow tree trunk. At age 17, Ruben left Mexico for the United States, landing in California, and eventually joined his older brother Hugo in Texas. A 1991 graduate of the Culinary Arts Program at Houston Community College, Ruben won first-place honors in 1993 at the Texas Culinary Federation’s statewide contest. Ruben’s desserts are known for their artistry as well as flavor, and his skills go beyond desserts to the savory side of the menu. He was named Pastry Chef of the Year in 2003 and 2010 at Houston Culinary Awards, and has worked with brother Hugo and sister-in-law Tracy on two cookbooks: Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico (2012) and Backstreet Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes from Our Neighborhood Cafe (2013).
How’d you learn to cook? From my mother and grandmother, and then at the Houston Community College Culinary Arts program.
What’s the first recipe you ever mastered? How to make pasta and Sachertorte…but I can’t remember which was first. Ha!
What ingredient can you not live without in the kitchen and why? Salt, and chocolate in any form. I love chocolate; it is my favorite ingredient.
What utensil can you not live without? My knives, microplane and rubber spatula – you have to have one!
Favorite affordable wine? Prosecco! Villa Sandi and Wild Horse Chardonnay.
Favorite place for dessert? I don’t have any one in particular, but my son Mateo loves The Chocolate Bar!
Is there a food you won’t eat? Shark.
What is your comfort food? Classic Italian, Mexican and BBQ.
What would be your last meal? My mother’s chiles rellenos and my Grandma Delia’s mole.
What do you see as the next food trend? Plant-based food, more vegan and vegetarian.
At home, what do you keep on hand to serve drop-in guests? I don’t get a lot of visitors, lol, but I always have Prosecco, if that counts. Ha!
What would people be surprised to find in your home refrigerator? Carrot cake from Randalls – I love it!
Who are your favorite chef, restaurant and dish? Chef Hori at Kata Robata – anything he makes is awesome!
Is there a particular food that is underappreciated? And what would you do to help its reputation? Plant-based foods, vegan and vegetarian dishes. We don’t have that many places in Houston that focus on plant-based dishes fully. One day, we should have at least two vegan restaurants for every 10 steakhouses. Maybe I will open a vegan restaurant one day and help start the movement!